The Blindfold Horse: Memories of a Persian childhood by Shusha Guppy (Heinemann, £10.95).
ROUND and round for a lifetime, with bandaged eyes, the blind-fold horse of the title is Shusha Guppy's first image from childhood, a large creature endlessly circling to rotate a stone which grinds flour forever into a surrounding gutter. The child is two or three, and the sight remains with her. To stop her fretting, her mother tells her the horse must think he is walking in a straight line, through fields, so long as he cannot see his surroundings.
She was born into a large loving privileged family in Persia, when the Shah seemed forever supreme. They were comfortable and educated, the women unveiled, even emancipated; yet they still had the relationships of a close-knit extended family, and this enriched things enormously. How meagre seem our small self-contained families in Europe compared with this tribe of aunts, uncles, cousins, even ancestors familiar from long memories and much storytelling!
The family was cultivated, hospitable and friendly, the big house in Teheran full of visitors, the atmosphere relaxed. In her teens Shusha Guppy went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, married an Englishman and since the early 1960s has lived in London.
She is London editor of the Paris Review, and a well-known singer and song-writer; she has two sons; her life has clearly been full and varied. But she looks back at the richness of her childhood in pre-Revolutionary Iran with nostalgia, with what
sometimes seems an almost unbearable sense of loss.
"The loveliest spot on earth, the lost paradise of childhood," she calls it. "Sometimes, on a summer evening, " she goes on, "I think of those days and, if I close my eyes, I can see it vividly, as if it were only yesterday that I had left it."
And she left it voluntarily, almost on a whim. "I did not know how hard I would have to work ever after to earn a fraction of the love from others, which was given to me freely without asking, and which I was leaving behind and discarding carelessly." she writes.
Perhaps every adult looking back on a happy, cherished childhood could say something like that, but in Shusha Guppy's case it is more poignant because the whole way of life in which she grew up, and so vividly recalls in this book, has gone forever.